Man jailed over parking ticket sues state He alleges false imprisonment, seeks $500,000 from Md.

June 29, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer Katherine Richards contributed to this article.

Gary C. Cronin, the Manchester man jailed overnight in August because he showed up in court $8.50 short to pay a fine and costs stemming from a parking ticket, is suing the state for $500,000.

In a three-count negligence and false imprisonment lawsuit filed Friday in Carroll Circuit Court, Mr. Cronin, 28, says he "was subjected to the extreme humiliation of being photographed, fingerprinted, searched, re-searched and strip-searched" because of Carroll District Judge Donald M. Smith's decision to put him in jail rather than give him eight more days to pay $15 in court costs.

"This case is so ridiculous, I can't believe something like this can actually happen," said Stephen S. Winegrad, Mr. Cronin's Owings Mills attorney. "This guy is a decent, hard-working, blue-collar guy who has never been in jail before."

On Aug. 6, Mr. Cronin pleaded guilty to an April 24 parking violation in front of his house on Main Street in Manchester. Saying he was told by a Manchester employee that the maximum amount of money he would have to pay was $10, he brought $16.50 to court that day.

But Judge Smith fined him $10 and imposed $15 in court costs, leaving Mr. Cronin $8.50 short.

According to the lawsuit, a district court clerk refused to allow Mr. Cronin to pay the fine and a portion of the costs, insisting on full payment or nothing.

The clerk gave Mr. Cronin a petition for waiver of costs, in which Mr. Cronin requested an eight-day extension to pay the $8.50 he was short in court costs.

Judge Smith denied Mr. Cronin's request, ordered him to be arrested and taken to the Carroll County Detention Center.

"Under no circumstances is a court permitted to incarcerate a defendant for failing to pay costs," Mr. Cronin's lawsuit says. "Here, [he] was incarcerated for failing to pay costs."

Mr. Cronin said in an interview that he was put in a cell by himself. He said he tried to refuse the bedding issued to him because he did not want to seem to be admitting that he belonged in the cell.

"The whole time, they never read me my rights," he said. "I knew it wasn't a dream." Mr. Cronin sat on his cot waiting for the someone to come and sort out the problem.

The other prisoners, Mr. Cronin said, were "more friendly than the system was all day."

Mr. Cronin wasn't released until the next morning, even though a friend showed up with $20 before he was placed in his cell.

"I had $36.50 and they still wouldn't let me go," he said.

"The Honorable Donald M. Smith was negligent, reckless and careless" in his handling of Mr. Cronin's case, the suit says. The judge should have granted the extension of time to pay costs and should have at least consulted with Mr. Cronin before deciding to deny the extension request, the suit says.

Judge Smith is on vacation until July 6 and could not be reached yesterday for comment. Ralph S. Tyler, a deputy attorney general, had not seen a copy of the lawsuit and declined to comment.

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